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The Great Fallen: Albert Paterson

Alby Paterson, Mines Rovers, circa 1900. (Photo: Les Everett)
Alby Paterson, Mines Rovers, circa 1900. (Photo: Les Everett)

Carlton can now add a 12th name to its Great Fallen of 1914-1918 – the name of its one-game “lost soldier” Albert (“Alby”) Henry Paterson some 96 years after his untimely passing.

The breakthrough comes by way of an email recently forwarded to the football club by David Paterson, to whom Alby was a great uncle.

Now domiciled in Tura Beach, a suburb of Merimbula on New South Wales’ South Coast, David wrote to ask whether Alby could be recognised as a former Carlton footballer who made the ultimate sacrifice in wartime. Alby’s service record, it seems, was not known to this club’s or the AFL’s historians, as his surname was incorrectly recorded as Patterson with two ts rather than one.

David advised that Alby was born in the old goldmining town of Happy Valley, just south of Ballarat near the town of Smythesdale in 1875. Happy Valley no longer exists.

Recruited from nearby Ascot Vale, Alby represented Carlton in the then VFA years through the winters of 1892-’96, and turned out for his one and only League appearance for the old dark Navy Blues in the second round of 1897.

That came against South Melbourne at the Lakeside Oval, when Paterson A. took his place in the pivot.

On parting company with Carlton, Alby, together with his wife Sarah Gazzard and daughter Amy, relocated to the Western Australian goldfields town of Kalgoorlie. There, from 1900 until 1915, Alby and Sarah parented three more children - Laura, Kenneth and Jessie - and Alby chased the leather for the Mines Rovers Football Club.

“Alby was selected to play for WA in the state carnival of 1904, but his son died and he was unable to play,” David said.

David advised that he had in his keep several faded newspaper clippings relating to Alby’s on-field career in Kalgoorlie.

“There is also a book called ‘Gravel Rash - 100 years of Goldfields Football’ by Les Everett, that has a photo of Albert,” David said.

Everett, who graciously provided the newspaper portrait of Alby, advised that the player was a member of the inaugural Mines Rovers Football Club team of 1899, in what is now known as the Goldfields Football League.

“Ted Rowell, the Collingwood great who started his footy career in the WA Goldfields, said of Paterson: ‘ . . . an almost unbeatable half-back. Although not very tall he had a wonderful spring and judgment, he was a splendid high mark’,” Everett said.

Alby was 41 when he answered the nation’s call, enlisting for wartime duties on December 31, 1916. Service records show that he stood five feet seven inches in the old measurement and tipped the scales at 180 pounds. His was a fair complexion, with hazel eyes and brown hair, and he carried a scar on the left side of his upper lip (no doubt obscured by the handlebar moustache). He also stated his occupation as miner.

In August 1917 in Melbourne, Alby hauled his kitbag up the gangway of the Southampton-bound ship Themistocles en route to France.

At the Australian General Base Depot in Rouelles some three months later, he joined members of the 3rd Australian Tunnelling Company, which was aligned with the Royal Australian Engineers for the course of the war. Each tunnelling unit was occupied in offensive and defensive mining which involved the placing and maintaining of mines under enemy lines, as well as other underground work such as the construction of deep dugouts for troop accommodation, the digging of subways, saps (a narrow trench dug to approach enemy trenches), cable trenches and underground chambers for signals and medical services.

During the Allies’ great advance to victory in Autumn of 1918, the 3rd Australian Tunnelling Company was responsible for the construction of a road bridge at Moudit under shellfire. What exactly happened to Alby is unclear, but what is known is that by July of 1918 he was admitted to hospital with lobar pneumonia –a form of pneumonia that affects a large and continuous area of the lobe of a lung.

Alby was still in hospital when the Armistice was declared and four days later, on November 15, 1918, was transferred to the 3rd Aust Auxiliary Hospital at Dartford.  Not until late December did he board a hospital ship bound for home.

The H.T. Marmara departed the Liverpool docks on December 21, 1918 with Sapper Paterson invalided home for discharge due to pneumonia.  Urine test was conducted during the voyage and Sarah was advised by Base Records of her husband’s impending return. 

The Marmara finally docked in Fremantle on January 27, 1919. On March 2 of that year, Alby was discharged from the Military due to medical unfitness and awarded a pension.

Twelve months later, on April 16, 1920 Albert Henry Paterson died at Trafalgar, a goldfields town some three kilometres east of Boulder.

The following obituary in The Western Argus of Tuesday, April 20, mentions nothing of Alby’s wartime record, but does shed further light on his life as a local footballer.

PROMINENT FOOTBALLER’S DEATH
THE LATE ALBERT PATTERSON (sic)
The death occurred on Saturday of Mr. Albert Henry Patterson, at his residence, Lane-st., Trafalgar. Deceased was a noted footballer on the fields a score of years ago, and was a member of the first goldfields representative team that visited the metropolis in 1901, as well as a member of the first State team to play in the carnival games in Victoria in 1906. “Patty”, as he was familiarly known on the fields, was generally regarded as the finest exponent of the game as a back player in goldfields league football, his brilliant and safe high marking being quite features of the matches in which he took part in the early years of this century. On the field he was absolutely clean and fair to an opponent, and was undoubtedly one of the most popular players.
His remains were interred in the Methodist portion of the Kalgoorlie cemetery yesterday afternoon, when a large number of members of the Trafalgar Fire Brigade, mines Rovers Football Club, and National Labour party, of which deceased was a member, were present.

A year later, in the Western Argus of Tuesday April 19, 1921, the following notices appeared:

The British War Medal and the Victory Medal were posthumously awarded to Alby for service to his King and country. His name was also recorded on the Roll of Honour for World War I as his wartime service contributed to his death.

Alby’s medals remained uncollected and were returned to Base Records on September 20, 1924.

A month later they were forwarded to Sarah at 40 Lake Street, Trafalgar.

In subsequent years, members of the Paterson family would be hit by further tragedy.

On the Australia Day weekend of 1934 Alby’s son-in-law George Jordan was accidentally killed in Kalgoorlie, sparking what became known in infamy as Australia’s worst race riot.

Jordan, who had twice been ejected from the town’s Home From Home Hotel by Italian barman Claudio Mattaboni for apparent drunken behavior, had returned to settle scores. But when Mattaboni pushed him out onto the street, Jordan fell, struck his head on the curb and later died from a fractured skull.

Rumours that the popular miner had been murdered by the Italian sparked widespread violence in Kalgoorlie, resulting in a further two deaths and 86 arrests before order was restored.

A tick over ten years later, in August 1945 and just a week before the Japanese empire declared its surrender in World War II, Alby’s grandson Arthur Thorns, a member of the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, died of illness in Borneo.

Albert Henry Paterson now becomes the 157th VFL footballer to have died on active service and the 95th to have died on active service in World War I. His name will shortly be included as a new entry in Barbara Cullen’s recently-released book “Harder than Football”, which documents the service records from 1897 of nearly 2500 players (235 Carlton players amongst them) who served in the Boer War, WW1 , WW2, Korea and Vietnam, or completed National Service. 

Alby also becomes the 12th former Carlton footballer known to have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war to end all wars. He joins George Challis, Harold Daniel, David Gillespie, Albert Gourlay, Tom McCluskey, Fen McDonald, Stan McKenzie, Charlie Oliver, Jim Pender, Willie Rogers and Alf Williamson in Carlton’s Great Fallen.

You who come after them – forget not their sacrifice.
Claim as your heritage a portion of their spirit.
And in peace or in war, take up their sword of service.
So shall the living and the dead be for all time
Joined in one brotherhood.